Something New: Singer Susie Suh At 25, singer-songwriter Susie Suh has a recording contract with Sony's Epic label and a self-titled debut CD. NPR's Liane Hansen talks with Suh about where her music comes from — and where she hopes to be going.
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Something New: Singer Susie Suh

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Something New: Singer Susie Suh

Something New: Singer Susie Suh

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Before we meet our next guest, there's a distinction to make. Twenty-five-year singer-songwriter Susie Suh is not Siouxsie Sioux, the front woman for an '80s British punk band, Siouxsie and the Banshees. The British Siouxsie Sioux was a Goth queen; the Susie Suh with us today comes on much softer.

(Soundbite of "Shell")

Ms. SUSIE SUH: (Singing) So I'm tearing down the walls inside, letting go of all my pride, make a home for the life. I don't need to hide inside a shell, this shell no more.

HANSEN: "Shell" is a single from Susie Suh's debut CD called "Susie Suh." She's 25 years old, she grew up in Los Angeles and she recently signed a recording contract with Sony Music. And Susie Suh joins us from our New York bureau.


Ms. SUH: Hi. Thank you for having me.

HANSEN: Let's talk about your biography so far.

Ms. SUH: Sure.

HANSEN: Twenty-five years old. And obviously anyone's life begins with their parents. Yours were in California. Are they first-generation immigrants from South Korea?

Ms. SUH: Yes, they came here in the late '60s, probably like 1968, 1969, as students on student visas from Seoul.

HANSEN: And they raised your family in California.

Ms. SUH: Yeah.

HANSEN: You started singing when you were eight years old?

Ms. SUH: Yeah. I actually started singing in a choir for a Korean station in Los Angeles called KTE, and it was called the KTE Children's Choir. My mom, she had read about it in the paper. They were advertising, looking for kids to sing on the weekend, and so she, you know, wanted me to do something on Saturdays mornings. So we would--I would go, you know, and we would sing, like, Korean folk songs and American pop tunes, Broadway songs, all different sorts of material, really.

HANSEN: You do a song called "Your Battlefield"...

Ms. SUH: Uh-huh.

HANSEN: ...and the lyrics really seem to tell a story of a conflict between you and your parents about what they want you to do, what they think is best for you, what you want to do, what you think is best for you.

Ms. SUH: Mm-hmm. Right.

HANSEN: Pressure to succeed and how you deal with it.

(Soundbite of "Your Battlefield")

Ms. SUH: (Singing) Someday I will ask you if I was a disappointment, and I will ask if you put your hard-earned money into a bad investment. You will tell me there are no guarantees, but you got solutions for security. And I will ask you, I will ask you, `How about my dreams?' But you still have this battlefield, and you have given me yours. You say I have to fight, I have to keep moving on.

I wrote that song, I think, probably around the age of 18 years old, and I was--I'd just started college and I definitely felt a lot of pressure from my family to, you know, become a doctor or a lawyer or something just very stable and very, you know, established. At that point in time, I was doing music for a while in high school. I really felt--like, in high school, that's where I really started loving music and wanting to somehow pursue it. And when I had gone to college, you know, my parents were--I mean, they were supportive in other ways, but when it came to me doing music, I think that they just wanted me to do that as a hobby.

HANSEN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SUH: They didn't see it as something that I could, you know, make a living from. So now they're so supportive and they're really happy for me, and they've done such an amazing job in terms of embracing kind of this thing that I've kind of, you know, kind of forced down their throats.

HANSEN: You, in the summer of your senior year, decided you wanted to go and see if you could make it. And so you literally--it's the classic story. You pounded the pavement. You played anywhere, any coffee shop that would have you...

Ms. SUH: Yeah.

HANSEN: ...any street corner that would have you. And, lo and behold, you were discovered in, you know, pure Hollywood form.

Ms. SUH: Uh-huh.

HANSEN: And at one point, you were going to play for the president of Sony Music, Don--Do I pronounce his last name Iener (pronounced eye-ner)?

Ms. SUH: Yeah, Donny Iener.

HANSEN: Donny Ei--Donny? You call him Donny now.

Ms. SUH: Don. I'm sorry. Don Iener.

HANSEN: Yes, OK. Well, you did have to play for him just by yourself in his office. And he had a guitar in his office.

Ms. SUH: Yes.

HANSEN: Tell us about this guitar.

Ms. SUH: Don Iener has a guitar that Bob Dylan gave him. When I was in his office, you know--I'm a big fan of Dylan, and I was kind of looking at it and oohing and aahing, you know, goo-gooing over it. And he said to me, you know, `Do you want to play it?' And I said, `Yeah, sure. I'd love to play it.' And, you know, inside I'm freaking out. I'm like, `Oh, my God!' But yeah, so then I--you know, I picked it up and played a song on it and it sounded great. It's a really good guitar, actually. And, actually, I think he had mentioned to me also to be careful with it because it's va--it's very valuable. So...

HANSEN: You're--`Phew.'

Ms. SUH: ...that's my--that's my little story.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. SUH: (Singing) I fight my demons every day. They come and go, ebb and flow like the ocean. You think you know me and you know me, but you don't know how scared I am. So I try to make excuses, and I like to blame everyone else. And I like to point my finger at you rather than change myself.

HANSEN: You had a mentor in the producer that you met, Glen Ballard. He wrote--co-wrote the single "Shell" with you. Now here's someone--I mean, Alanis Morissette, "Jagged Little Pill." You can't ask for more success than that at that time.

Ms. SUH: Yeah.

HANSEN: And now he's taken you under his particular wing.

Ms. SUH: Yeah.

HANSEN: How is that working for you? What are you learning from him, and, in particular, what are you learning from him from his criticisms?

Ms. SUH: It kind of just turned into this thing where, you know, we kind of had, I felt, like a really strong connection. There was a certain vibe going on between us where I kind of felt comfortable in his hands because I felt like he kind of got it and that he wasn't going to F it up, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SUH: He was able, I feel like, to bring out the best in me, and that's--I think that's a real talent, being able to do that for many different kinds of artists. I think a producer that's able to do that is--I mean, that's a talent in itself.

HANSEN: So you've been touring in California; you've been touring the East Coast. Is this the life you imagined?

Ms. SUH: You know--yeah, it actually is. Probably ever since, you know, high school or, you know, my teens, I think that this is been something that I've wanted to do. And now that it's actually come, I think that it really--I mean, it's a bit surreal. It does feel at times like, `Wow, this is my life.' But at the same time, I feel like--I don't know. I feel like in some way it was sort of predestined.

HANSEN: Susie Suh--that's S-U-S-I-E; last name S-U-H. Her CD, "Susie Suh," is on the Epic label. She joined us from our New York bureau.

Thanks. Good luck to you.

Ms. SUH: Thank you so much.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. SUH: (Singing) And I like to point my finger at you rather than change myself. So I like to make excuses, and I like to blame everyone else. And I like to point my finger...

HANSEN: There is more music by Susie Suh on our Web site,

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. SUH: (Singing) ...change myself. So I like to make excuses, and I like to blame everyone else.

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